van Dijk caps dream debut with late Derby winner

Match Report

The F.A Cup is a chance to take a break from league action and to switch focus to a different competition. This tie was never going to be that. When Everton were drawn out of the hat at the beginning of December it meant that there be a big difference in intensity from the two previous 3rd round ties Jurgen Klopp has been in charge of at Liverpool. This is a Merseyside derby and, regardless of the competition, a defeat is not acceptable. This is always a massive game and Klopp couldn’t afford to take this one lightly as he has done in previous years. The pressure was certainly on.

It seemed as if the manager understood the task ahead of him and picked his team accordingly. Loris Karius started in goal for Simon Mignolet who didn’t even make the bench, with Danny Ward instead being preferred to deputise. Virgil van Dijk made his debut in place of Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip replaced Ragnar Klavan. Joe Gomez came in for Trent Alexander-Arnold in the final change in the back four. Emre Can looks close to agreeing on a move to Juventus on a Bosman in the summer, yet was chosen to start in central midfield here alongside James Milner. Sadio Mane attended the AFCON Player of the Year awards last night, which Mohamed Salah won. The latter wouldn’t be available due to injury but the former would start this game. Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Roberto Firmino comprised the remainder of the Liverpool’s starting XI.

Everton were having a busy time in the transfer window having sold Ross Barkley to Chelsea for just £15 million hours before kick-off and the £27 million arrival of Cenk Tosun from Besiktas was only announced during the game. Sam Allardyce was never going to let that affect his preparation though and he was able to name a strong side himself. James McCarthy would make just his second start of the season for The Toffees, as would Yannick Bolasie as he continues his comeback from a knee injury which nearly ended his career a year ago.

Allardyce had picked a team to stifle his opponents and that exactly how most of the first half panned out. Everton proceeded to sit back and contain Liverpool by constricting the space between the back four and the midfield. It seemed to work well as Liverpool were being restricted to half chances and barely troubling our neighbours from across Stanley Park. Roberto Firmino’s hold up play was proving ineffective and it looked as if it would take something different up front if we were to get a result here.

Going forward Everton offered little. Yannick Bolasie seemed to be their main outlet but Andy Robertson was doing a sterling job of coping with the Congolese winger. At centre half Virgil van Dijk was having a solid debut. He showing everything Liverpool had been missing without him – leadership, reading of the game and power in the air. Maybe he wouldn’t be so bad after all.

As the half wore on Liverpool controlled more and more of the possession. Everton remained comfortable though and it was beginning to look as if it would take either a moment of magic or a mistake to break the deadlock. It would be a mistake and it would be an Everton one. On thirty two minutes Adam Lallana had control of the a bouncing ball on the edge of the box and turned to play in Sadio Mane. As he did so, Mason Holgate got himself too tight and pulled him down. Lallana seemed to go over slightly too easily but the referee saw enough to award Liverpool a penalty. James Milner stepped up and sent Jordan Pickford sprawling while putting the ball in the middle of the net. Liverpool had a precious goal and it was now an uphill task for Everton.

Everton had been rough throughout the game, a fact characterised by the yellow card given to Wayne Rooney in the first five minutes of the game for his third foul in as many minutes. After the goal though it seemed as the occasion and the emotion got to them even more. Challenges were now flying in from Everton and they weren’t holding back. Shortly before half time Pickford miscued a clearance which fell to Holgate. Firmino and Mane were onto him immediately and Firmino shepparded the ball out of play for a throw in. As he did so he was pushed into the stand by Holgate to which Firmino reacted furiously. A melee ensued, with Holgate accusing Firmino of saying something to him which is still unclear. Now though we had a cup tie and a Merseyside Derby.

When the referee blew his whistle for half-time it signalled the end of a period which ended in frantic fashion. Liverpool had by far been the better side, especially after the goal, but Everton had played their part. Before Milner put Liverpool ahead, Everton were virtually untroubled by Liverpool. Since then they had lost their cool and were playing the game with too much emotion, which was leading to fouls and bookings. If they were to get back into this game then that would have to change in the second half.

They didn’t though and their emotions were now affecting their ability to stay in the game. Their gameplan had seemingly gone out the window and Liverpool were now finding more space in the Everton half. Within the first ten minutes of the second half Adam Lallana was clean through on goal with Holgate in hot pursuit. The young defender managed to catch up and put Lallana off his shot, with the ball screwing wide of Pickford’s Kop end goal. Virgil van Dijk won a header from an Oxlade-Chamberlain free kick which he sent straight at the goalkeeper. For all our pressure though we were unable to take our chances. Everton had taken a chance by throwing men forward and it could have cost them dearly. But it didn’t. In fact, it would pay off for them.

From a Liverpool corner Everton were able to clear their lines and the ball eventually came to Ademola Lookman, on as a substitute, on the Everton left. He sprinted forward and attacked Joe Gomez before laying it off to Phil Jagielka, who had broke forward from the corner, on the right corner of the box. Jagielka held the ball up and laid it off to Gylfi Sigurdsson on the edge of the area, who steered it into the bottom corner of Karius’ goal to level the game. It was another sucker punch from Everton and a goal they hardly deserved. Liverpool needed to find the energy and desire to win this game again now.

The game was now as open as ever and it was Everton who had the wind in their sales. Lookman was have a storming game since coming onto the field and Liverpool now seemed in trouble. Dominic Clavert-Lewin had also made a nuisance of himself all day with his pace and willingness to attack aerial balls. Oumar Niasse was sent on by Sam Allardyce in a late attempt to get bodies forward. There would be another goal, a winning goal to boot, but it would be an Everton one.

Liverpool gained a corner on the right side of the Kop goal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whipped the ball into the near post and red shirt rose above two defenders and the Everton goalkeeper to nod it into the bottom corner with his afro ponytail waving behind him. As the ball hit the back of the net every Liverpool fan in the stadium strained to see who the goalscorer was. When George Sephton, the Anfield stadium announcer, boomed over the P.A system, “scorer of the Liverpool goal, Virgil van Dijk” his announcement was met with the loudest cheer of the night. van Dijk himself slid on his knees in delight as 50,000 Kopites roared in ecstasy. A winning goal in front of the Kop end in your first game for the club – what a debut!

Everton began to pour forward in search of the equaliser they had four minutes to find. Lookman chipped a ball to Calvert-Lewin on the right, which he cushioned across the box. Niasse tangled with van Dijk and half-heartedly appealed for a penalty, but it would have been incredibly soft. Minutes later, Bolasie had the ball twenty yards from goal with Sigurdsson overlapping. Instead of sliding in his Icelandic team-mate he chose to shoot and his effort fizzed into the Everton fans in the Anfield Road End.

It would prove to be the final effort of the game before the referee blew the whistle at a jubilant Anfield. It had proven to be a tighter, more open game than many had anticipated. A lot of fans and pundits expected Everton to turn up and throw eleven men behind the ball as they did do four weeks ago in the league meeting between these two. In fairness, after Liverpool took the lead, Everton took the game to Liverpool and deserved their equaliser when it came. Nonetheless, on the balance of play, the right team won this game. Liverpool were the better side over the ninety minutes and the winner was also deserved.

Jurgen Klopp was criticised roundly last season for not taking the F.A Cup seriously enough. That cannot be levelled at him this season as he played the strongest side available to him in this game. At the end of the day though, the new £75 million defender had the final say and Liverpool march onto the fourth round to continue our search for silverware.